The Dallas City Council was expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution that called for demolishing one Confederate monument and auctioning off another. Instead, they postponed making major decisions, voting 9-6 to review more options for a Confederate War Memorial. Then, they voted 10-5, without discussion, not to sell a statue of General Robert E. Lee but did not indicate what the city would do with it either.
These developments happen to come on the heels of a newly-filed lawsuit that alleges the mayor and the city council violated state law that protects historical monuments.
Breitbart Texas obtained the petition filed in Dallas District Court. It names Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and the 14 city council members as defendants and asserts they overstepped their authority, violating the Texas Antiquities Code which “preserves and protects historic and educational sites on land in the State of Texas.”
The statute, outlined in Title 9, Chapter 191 of the Texas Natural Resources Code, designates “sites of historic interest” such as “archaeological landmarks” as the “sole property of the State of Texas.” They “may not be removed, altered, damaged, destroyed, salvaged, or excavated without a contract with or permit” from the Texas Historical Commission.
The petition alleges city officials violated the Antiquities Code when they did not follow procedure and seek a Texas Historic Commission (THC) permit “prior to publicly announcing their intent to demolish the Confederate Monument.”
Previously, the city council announced plans to introduce the resolution at their April 25 meeting. It contained four subsections of which, #3 directed Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax to procure “a fine auction house” to sell the bronze equestrian statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Young Soldier, which remains warehoused since the Dallas city officials unearthed it last September. According to city staff, the Lee statue, crafted by renowned American sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, has an appraised value of $950,000.
Then, #4 charged Broadnax “to obtain a Certificate of Demolition from the Landmark Commission” to tear down the 122-year old Confederate War Memorial downtown’s Pioneer Park Cemetery. It also authorized him to “extract” the plinth and seating area remaining at the former site of the Robert E. Lee statue.
The lawsuit names the Confederate War Memorial and 10 other sites of historic interest in Pioneer Park Cemetery as “creating one of the largest historically protected areas in Texas.” Each of these monuments is recognized as a State Archaeological Landmark and are designated by Texas Historic markers. Furthermore, the plaintiffs claim that the “Dallas City Council cannot pretend to be unaware of these facts” as the city “designated Pioneer Cemetery as Historic Overlay District No. 14 by Ordinance 24938.”
The petition also indicates that the Lee statue was marked with Texas Historical Marker No. 6759, posted by the Texas Historical Commission in 1991. The plaintiffs assert the defendants “did not seek or acquire a permit from the commission to remove the statue” last year yet they dismantled the sculpture.
The Antiquities Code sets criminal penalties for violators as misdemeanors punishable by a fine of between $50 to $1,000 and/or confinement in jail for up to 30 days. The plaintiffs estimated that since the time of the Lee statue vote on September 6, 2017, criminal fines “could reach as high as $290,000 and jail time into many years for removing a revered and honored monument to a significant part of Texas history.” The petition, though, acknowledges that council members Sandy Greyson and Rickey Callahan did not vote in favor of removing the Lee statue.
Interestingly, in 1974, then-Texas Attorney General John Hill wrote in an opinion about the Antiquities Code: “…But we believe the Legislature intended to guard and protect archaeological landmarks found on publicly owned property with the same vigor as those found on private land and that it intended to forbid unpermitted destruction or alteration of such landmarks by government employees or officers, as well as by private persons.”
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit are Katherine Gann, a “collateral ancestor” of Frank Teich, the sculptor who created the Confederate War monument in Pioneer Park Cemetery; and Return Lee to Lee Park, a grassroots effort to reinstate Proctor’s statuary. They seek a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and ask the court to stop the resolution’s proposed demolition of the Confederate War Memorial in Pioneer Park Cemetery. They also request the plinth and seating area remain in the park formerly named for Robert E. Lee, now Oak Lawn Park. The lawsuit adds that that since the Lee statue was improperly removed in 2017, it must be returned to its plinth. The court documents note that further legal action may follow if the plaintiffs’ requests are not granted.
Breitbart Texas reached out to the City of Dallas about the lawsuit. A spokeswoman said, “The City of Dallas does not comment on pending litigation.”
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